TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will lay out his ideas for overhauling teacher tenure, giving parents a choice in where their children attend school and shoring up a teetering public worker pension system in his first State of the State address.

Christie told The Associated Press in an interview that he plans to stick to three themes Tuesday in a speech that will top out at under 30 minutes: education reform; changes to the pension and health benefits funds for government workers, teachers, police and firefighters; and responsible budgeting.

“It’s going to be brisk and direct,” Christie said of the speech, “talking about those things and why they’re so important to the future of the state. We’ll do a little bit of a review of where we’ve been and what we accomplished our first year in office, but the majority of the speech will be talking about those three big issues to me.”

Foremost on Christie’s 2011 agenda is education reform. Already a well-established nemesis of the state teachers union, Christie said he will push for merit pay for teachers who perform well and penalty pay — called differentiation — for teachers who are not up to par.

“We have to do a complete relook at teacher tenure. It’s not working. It’s not just merit pay,” Christie said Thursday. “You have to encourage pay differentiation so that everybody is incentivized with carrot and stick.”

The governor said he’ll also push for passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a pilot school choice program that offers tax credits to corporations that contribute to scholarships for children in failing schools to attend private or parochial school or public school in another district.

Christie said he calls the idea “parental choice” rather than “school choice” because it gives parents “the best opportunity to choose the best education for their child.”

“These programs benefit disproportionately the lower middle-class and poor, who don’t have the money to make a choice to send their children to a parochial school or a private school,” he said.

Christie said he’ll address the achievement gap that still exists between wealthy and poor districts despite massive amounts of money poured into poor districts in an attempt to raise test scores and graduation rates. He said he’ll call for more charter schools and for a rule change to allow struggling districts to hire superintendents who lack experience as educators. The administration put that proposal before the state Board of Education last week.

“I’m trying to bring forward this sense of making the system cater to the children, not to the adults,” Christie said. “That’s a paradigm shift we have to get to.”

Christie also plans to revisit pension and health benefits changes many agree are needed to fix two chronically underfunded systems.

He’ll call for employees to shoulder more of their health care costs, and will propose higher deductibles, higher copays and that workers pay part of the cost of the premium rather than a portion of their salaries, as they do now. Health benefits were free until last year, when workers were required to start paying 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their benefits. Christie said the higher costs would be phased in and the state will offer health plans with a range of cost options.

Christie said he’ll talk about pension changes that he proposed in the fall that include raising the retirement age and rolling back a 9 percent benefit increase approved a decade ago. He said he’ll reiterate his plan to fix the current pension system — currently $53.9 billion in the red — before thinking about phasing it out.

The Republican governor and national GOP party darling, who will begin his second year in office later this month, will also take a victory lap for first-year achievements, which include enacting a 2 percent property tax cap and adopting a budget with few changes from Democrats.

“The first year in my mind went better than I could have hoped,” Christie said. “The Legislature deserves a good share of the credit. We did get a budget passed, get pension and benefit reform for new employees, get a property tax cap, get interest arbitration reform and a cap. If I had told anyone on Inauguration Day that we were going to do all that and get a budget passed two days early, people would have just laughed me out of the building.

“More importantly, I really do believe we’ve changed the dialogue,” he said. That’s what I meant on election night when I said we were going to turn Trenton upside down. I think we have. Now our job is to make the most of that opportunity.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (8)
  1. Cheryl Lowrie says:

    It is clear that NJ (along with many other states) is in financial crisis. Every single person, living in this state should share the deficit. Including those who choose to be on well fair when they could work, and spend their state given benefits on high priced clothing, new cell phones, body enhancements, dental adornments, lottery tickets and any other un-necessary items, those who choose to be on disability, when another suitable career could be obtained once retrained, those who choose to “cheat” the state disability program because they are lazy, those who choose to be unemployed because the available jobs are considered beneath them, those who choose to be illegal residents of the USA and NJ and bleed our social services dry even when they do NOT pay into the system, and finally those who choose to never be gainfully employed because they can ride the benefit train.
    I realize that not all people using our state resources are cheating the system; many of them are people who have just found themselves in unfortunate unplanned situations, and truly deserve help. No one should be refused emergency medical care, or any state offered help, as long as it is truly needed. But where and how is this being determined? Government needs to make sure the people that legitimately fit the criteria for the services are granted requests. Those who sit idly by and collect monies and or services need to be accountable for “state deficit burden” as well. We do not need “Big Brother”; we need everyone across the board to be accountable. Fair is fair!
    Focusing hard on “state employees” to help balance budgets is not a fair solution. Many of NJ’s state employees are faced with the same recession issues and already living paycheck to paycheck. But one must remember these state employees (for the most part) are doing their jobs responsibly and efficiently. These “state employees” are protecting our communities against crime, fires, terrorist attacks, keeping our roads in working order, cleaning our communities, teaching your children, keeping your communities clean, insuring your special needs children and senior citizens and disabled are not forgotten citizens, keeping government records current, providing fair solutions for the needy, homeless and soon to be homeless.
    Imagine yourself, a “private or corporate employee” now having your pay check targeted to make up for your company’s shortcomings, mishandled budgets, inflated salaries, poor investment choices, now requiring you, a (hardworking employee, living with your belt already tightened) to endure pay cuts, pension reductions, and or added contributions to benefits. This is because management has dropped the proverbial ball. They need to come up with monies to keep the company up and running. You are also living paycheck to pay check and have bills to pay and perhaps extenuating situations as well. Now you, the hard worker; will have to bear the brunt of poor planning and management and take a financial step backwards. Now you have to share in corporate mistakes. Would this change your opinion on “sharing in the burden”?
    I believe that we should all should be accountable for ourselves, be gainfully employed, pay a fair share to run our townships and governments. But what I am not seeing is the general public fairly considering all of the factors that can lead to a fair equally shared, fiscal resolution, because their paychecks and benefits are not being “hit” by the state.
    I whole-heartedly believe that any person holding down a job should work an honest day for an honest days pay. All management, (public or private) needs to step up to the plate and make sure that employees are doing their jobs correctly and efficiently. The state should consider placing any future plans for unnecessary projects on the back burner until financial stability can be achieved. But, we must also be aware that if there were lay-offs from so-called “unnecessary” programs (private or public), that already established, these employees would now become a new burden to the state. They could require medical, unemployment, housing, and food stamp benefits. The state will effectively be adding to their budgets. Reducing their budgets in one respect, but effectively increasing their unemployment, Medicare and food assistance budgets. (Taking out of one pocket and putting in another, penny wise pound foolish)
    There is a crisis. There are hard choices ahead. Every gainfully employed citizen should share the burden. That means including persons who receiving state funded benefits that are NOT legitimately eligible. They should be considered “state employees” as well and SHARE the financial burden.

  2. Kay Nat says:

    money to corporations for privatizing w turnkey charter schools, money to corporations for training badly educated students when they get to higher education, the same drain of pension system used to bilk those of us formerly of the corporate world, and subsidy for rich families to continue in private schools they already can afford. how does any of this benefit children and offer hope for the next generation to be any smarter when they vote?

  3. GBSmith says:

    By the comments posted – You are doing something right.

  4. The FaCtS R says:

    LQQK at His face, this as@hOle is an arrogant, sneering bully, and need to lose some weight…… we hate this guy in New Jersey, i don’t know why i voted for him……. Sorry Peoples………………

  5. The FaCtS R says:

    Christy is an arrogant, sneering bully. His political strategy of scapegoating and assuming an air of self-righteous infallibility is all too familiar. The idea of him in the White House with his finger on the button is chilling.

  6. Robert Senn says:

    if the gov is going to reform his benifits for employees he is going to have to make it fair to all by going to an hourly rate 2080 hr is full time anything else is part time half of what a full time employee gets everyone equal

  7. Paul Kohloff says:

    Go Christy,getter done.

  8. jad19so says:

    Christy is an arrogant, sneering bully. His political strategy of scapegoating and assuming an air of self-righteous infallibity is all too familiar. The idea of him in the White House with his finger on the button is chilling.

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